Smoking a pipe is a multifaceted experience. Part ceremony, part entertainment, part pleasure, part Zen meditation.
Pipe smoking has a long and treasured past.
*Herodotus described Scythians inhaling the fumes of burning leaves in 500* *B.C., and Greeks adopted pipes from their neighbors to the east and they were* *subsequently used by Germanic, Celtic and Nordic tribes.*
Native Americans were smoking pipes before being discovered by Europeans. Tobacco was introduced to Europe in the 16th Century, and quickly spread around the known world.
Pipes have long been depicted in art work, from images of old Dutchmen smoking long clay pipes, to paintings of old women smoking corn cobb pipes. Pipes have been mainstays in modern culture, images of hardened reporters at their desk, puffing furiously to meet their deadlines typing on old Olivetti typewriters and yelling out “Copy boy!” through cloud of fragrant tobacco smoke.
Always the purview of teachers and all that wax pedantic, the pipe has been used as a baton to lead a conversation or a tool to deliver an admonition at the end of it’s waving stem.
But today, what does it mean to smoke a pipe? What does it tell us about the man?
Consider, all the care and loving that gets put into the finest pipes. Carved from the burls of briar roots *Erica arborea (tree heath)*, this extremely hard and heat-resistant wood is what the majority of pipes are made of today. Lets stick with them, shall we?
A pipe consists of two basic parts. The bowl and the stem. Like many simple things, these two basic parts contain many differentiated areas, but that will be reserved for next weeks story.
A pipe is a work of art. The better ones are carved by hand. Beautiful grains and artistically carved shapes cry out for them to be displayed where the eye can appreciate them. In many home of those erudite and not, these object can form an eye-pleasing display on a mantle or dresser.
But a pipe is a practical tool. It has its’ specific use beyond just a visual pleasure or its’ value as an elegant prop.
To smoke a pipe is to make a commitment, start a relationship. One in which both partners are expected to act in a certain manner. A dance, if you will, with each partner knowing their steps, careful not to trod on unsuspecting toes. A pipe smoking man is a man who is considerate in his decisions. His actions are deliberate and not haphazard. It takes patience and determination to smoke a pipe to its’ fullest enjoyment.
Upon choosing your favorite pipe, the rites begin. Selecting your favorite tobacco opens the door to the sensuous pleasure of tobacco between the fingers and the pleasure of filling the bowl. Using your thumb to tamp down the tobacco give you a chance to comfortably grip the bowl and feel the craftsmanship that has gone into it.
It is an art to choose the right amount of tobacco from the pouch or jar, being careful not to waste any. And packing the bowl is a skill all in its’ own. Packed too loosely and it burns too quickly. Packed too tightly, and even if you get it lit, you will have the devils’ own time of drawing air through the bowl to smoke. Like a Japanese Tea Ceremony much care and solemnity should go into this.
But once the bowl is packed, it is time to bring the Gift of Prometheus into play. Fire, the all consuming catalyst, is applied to the bowl, gently, slowly. For myself, I orbit the flame around the bowl as I inhale. I strive to get and even start. Such a waste if the flame is only in the center. Half the bowl may be unburnt if not lit properly.
Once the bowl is lit, and you are drawing air through satisfactorily, now is the time to pickup that book you had been wanting to read, or that painting you have been wanting to finish or that manuscript you are writing (*How is the* *character development going, anyhow?*). Now is he time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But don’t let your attention wander too far, on occasion you may have to rekindle the Fires of Pompeii, for the bowl will dull itself down to such a state that it must be rekindled.
Feel the warm smoke roll around in your mouth, bringing magical flavors, see the scented smoke swirl around your head as it wreathes around your head from both your exhalations and the burning bowl. A veritable dance of smoke angels rising to the heavens.
But after a time it is fore-spent, fore-spent. And time to clean the pipe. After the pipe has cooled, you must first, clear the dottle, that left over aftermath of your edifying experience. It must be carefully tapped out and discarded. If unable to be tapped out, then a pipe-tool must be utilized. Gently, so as not to scrap the cake of ash that starts to form around the bowl. This cake helps in the heat control of the bowl.
Next, a pipe cleaner, dipped in strong spirits is used to clear the pipe stem of ash and other residue. Once completed, polished with a dry cloth, the pipe is ready to resume its’ former place of glory on your mantle.
Consider the man who smokes a pipe. A gentle man indeed!